New Brunswick

Need for seed: 50th anniversary for the National Tree Seed Bank

One of the largest compilations of seed species in the country is stored in Fredericton, where the National Tree Seed Centre is celebrating its first 50 years.

14,000 seed lots, 150 different species and 50 years of existence at the National Tree Seed Centre

The National Tree Seed Centre in Fredericton tests seeds to guage their long-term viability. The seed centre is celebrating its 50th anniversary. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

One of the largest compilations of seed species in the country is stored in Fredericton, where the National Tree Seed Centre is celebrating its first 50 years.

The seed branch of Natural Resources Canada provides seeds for researchers across the country, and the world. Sometimes the seeds can be used to help reforestation, other times it's for research. 

And the centre has research of its own, said Dale Simpson, the manager of the seed bank.

Twelve years ago, Simpson started collecting ash seed, after the emerald ash borer started destroying the ash tree population in Ontario.

The centre has 14,000 seed lots and 150 different species of seeds. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)
"The idea is by collecting the seed and storing the seed," Simpson said.

"I'm storing the naturally occurring genetic variation of the species, so after the insect has gone through the area and killed all the ash trees, this seed could be used for small restoration plantings.

"Also it can also be certainly used for research to hopefully identify or develop strains of trees that could be resistant or tolerant to the insect."

Reforestation and protecting tree populations aren't the only tasks of the National Tree Seed Centre. 

Dale Simpson is the long-time manager of the National Tree Seed Centre. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)
The seed bank has 14,000 seed lots, small containers of seeds representing 150 different species.

That's double the number of seed lots that were at the centre 20 years ago, when Simpson started working there. Growing that collection has been one of the highlights of his time at the centre, he said.

It's very rewarding in that the collections that you make are being used for research and particularly to know how well seed will store.- Dale Simpson

"It's important to keep growing the collection, obtaining seed from species, from other locations in the country, and also for species that are currently not in storage, because you never know when some of that seed could be needed or of use for research."

The seeds are kept in a freezer, to keep them viable. 

50 years of seeds

The National Tree Seed Centre isn't the only one of its kind in Canada. There are also provincial seed centres, which tend to store larger volumes of seeds specific to the province. 

The national centre started in 1967, when there was a call out for more research into tree seeds. 

"Reforestation programs in Canada were expanding," said Simpson. 

The centre gets 40 to 50 requests a year for seeds from different researchers. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)
"There was need for knowledge on how to collect seed, best practices for collection, testing the seed, and storing the seed."

The centre gets 40 to 50 requests a year for seeds from different researchers. Once the centre approves the request, the seeds are free, though the researcher must pay the cost of shipping. 

"It's very rewarding in that the collections that you make are being used for research and particularly to know how well seed will store."

About the Author

Philip Drost is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick.

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